The two newest returnees

KP531 has been nesting in Princeville for at least as long as I have been observing the albatrosses.  His favorite nesting area is not far from where the female with whom he raised several chicks likes to nest with her new mate.  I am always glad to see the experienced nesters get back safely, and I will be happy to see his mate return to him.

BluKP226, Gator, is 12 years old.  His father is Great-grandpa Joseph, the patriarch of our neighborhood.  Joseph is at least 33 years old; he was banded as an adult at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  He and two other old-timers, Mr. and Mrs. Clackypants, all nest in the same yard.  My neighbors run an albatross senior citizens’ facility there.  No annoying young couples need apply!

Just kidding!  Bob and Marion would welcome young couples, but Joseph prefers not to share his bushes, and Mr. Clackypants can be downright surly when someone tries to nest on his lawn.

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The first albatross to return to Princeville

I was a terrible keeper-of-the-blog last year, but I promise to be much better this season.  I will throw in some information about last year’s batch of birds in Princeville as the season progresses, in addition to stories of this year’s albatross visitors.

Last year, I saw my first albatross on November 10th.  She was in my neighbors’ backyard, and I cannot share a band number because there was no band on either leg.  Usually the nesting males are the first ones back, with some exceptions.  Unbanded is a female.  And the first one to return this year is also a female, as is her mate.  The two 8-year olds had their first nest together last year.  Unfortunately, they had 2 unfertilized eggs so there was no chick for them to raise.

K771, first albatross back, is Ana Malia.  Her parents have split up since she fledged.  Dad has found someone else to nest with, and Mom has not quite adjusted to not having a mate.  Mom has an interesting background.  She was banded on Oahu, but she fledged from Whale-Skate Island northwest of us.  That island was a victim of the rising sea level caused by climate change; it is now totally submerged, so she can never go back there again.  I hope she finds a new mate this season, she is a very good parent.

K771’s mate, K769, grew up a couple of yards away from Ana Malia.  Both of her parents have disappeared, and are probably deceased, unfortunately.  K769 is Barney.  Since the mother of my last two chicks is named Roger, I will not complain about Barney’s name.

This is Ana Malia giving herself a good grooming.  She is currently sitting right across the street from where she and Barney had their nest last year.  She must figure that this is a good spot for meeting up with her mate.  Nesters almost always come back to the area where they nested the year before.

Ana Malia tidying up

 

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Princeville chicks who were affected by the rains

There weren’t any, really.

We all tend to give these birds our human qualities, but even surrounded by “civilization,” they lead the albatross life.  MK, the chick in my yard, had access to shelter, yet she chose to sit totally unprotected as thunder and lightning shook my house, and while the heaviest rain I can ever remember formed rivers through my yard.  She sits alone most of the time, with the occasional visit by a pesky non-nester.  She has no reason to be afraid of anything.  It is not a question of courage, she is a part of the natural world, she meets challenges as they arise; she has no time to waste in the human activity of anticipating problems.

Here is a photo I took the day after the storms.  She spent the day grooming her feathers; she lost more of her baby fluff to the rain.  The white feathers on her tail add to her overall cuteness, of course.

Can there be any more human concept than cuteness?  As my late mother would say, “Who cares?”

MK, the day after the storm

 

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Cuteness covered in fluff

Of all of the 58 nests in Princeville, approximately 39% do not have a male.  56 of the nests are two females, and in one case, each of two female partners decided to build her own nest and lay an egg, then incubate her own egg.  One of those females abandoned her nest and is currently sitting on her partner’s egg.

Most of the female/female nests do not result in a chick.  They often each lay an egg, and usually the egg they incubate is not viable, unless one of them has mated with a male and that egg happens to be the one they choose to incubate.  However, we have one fascinating couple, Kp507 and KP468, who have raised 5 chicks starting with the 2006-2007 season.  Each time, KP507 took the first incubation shift.  And now she is sitting on their sixth chick.

The chick was dry, so he’s was not brand new, but his uncoordinated movements resulting in complete exhaustion indicate that he was very young when I filmed him.  Mom just wanted to sit on him, and he was not objecting to that protection.

 

KP468 left a hard egg, and will now come back to a soft chick.

Not a bad swap.

 

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Unusual incubations

Someone asked me about the Princeville couple who incubated the cap from the end of a PVC pipe.  This occurred during the 2013-2014 season.  The following year they raised a healthy chick.  But during the 2015-2016 season, I never saw the male, and I have not seen him since then.  I assume he is dead.  I did see the female, purpleO656, several times in the area where they had nested, but for the last two seasons she has been appearing at the site of the Cornell web cam.  It is quite common for an albatross who has lost a mate to relocate to another area in the search for a new mate.

I decided to reprint a post from March of 2014 about this couple.  PurpleO656 has not found a mate yet, but she certainly has the maternal instinct required to be a good mother.

Here’s hoping!

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This week I have been observing a most unusual nest.  It is long past nesting season for the albatrosses.  I have never seen a nest built past December, nor have I seen a fertile egg laid past the third week in December.  Occasionally an albatross who is not nesting will sit on an abandoned, infertile egg, or even on an inanimate object.  One of the successful nesters in my neighborhood once tried briefly to incubate a tennis ball.

730 talking to tennis ball

730 talking to tennis ball – photo by C Brookman

I have never seen an albatross spend more than an hour attempting this kind of incubation.  I have also never seen an albatross build a new nest in February or March.  Until now.  We have a bird who has built a simple nest around the sawed off cap from the end of a PVC pipe.  This nest was approximately 2 weeks old when I first saw it, and as far as the homeowners know, the bird did not leave it during this period of time.

I went to check on it yesterday, and found a male albatross named Kaulele interacting with the “nester” as she careful tended to her “egg,” moving it underneath the brood patch on her abdomen that keeps an egg in close contact with warm skin.  I know that the visitor is a male, so I am assuming the one on the nest is a female.  Kaulele is 7 years old and has never nested before.

Why is she staying on this nest, on an object that has rough edges and looks uncomfortable, nothing like an egg?  Has she ever nested before?

Will the male take over incubation duties for her or does he know that there is something wrong with this picture?

UPDATE:  Kaulele has taken over incubation duties of the PVC cap.  How is that for a first-time nesting experience?  I am hoping that he and his partner return to nest next November.  They have chosen a good area, where the residents all keep an eye on the birds and the chicks can easily fly/walk down the golf course to an ocean bluff, to spread their wings and launch themselves into the updrafts that will help to carry them safely out over the ocean.  Of course, this does not explain the chick who made his way across the golf course to one of the busiest roads in Princeville and walked on down to stand patiently at the lobby door of the Princeville Westin Hotel.  I think they do things like this so humans like me will never get to the point where we think we  know everything about them.

Note to all the albatrosses:  I retreated from that point long ago!  I’m the one waving the white flag!

 

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Gator and his new egg

Gator hatched in my neighbors’ yard in 2006.  He first came back in 2011, and by 2013 he had found a mate,  KP513, and they had a chick together.  They raised him in the same yard where Gator was a chick, and two years later they raised Pablo together there. They always got together in Princeville in the years when they did not nest, and always next to the same house.  In the albatross world this yard gets a 5-squid rating.

Last year there was no egg, but Gator appeared to be sitting in a nest, and to an observer it appeared that there might be an egg there.  But there was no egg.  Gator sat on the nest for two weeks, but KP513 did not appear to be as interested.

KP513 did not return this year.  I always assume that if an albatross who has a nesting partner does not come back, he or she has died.  It takes so much time and effort to find the perfect mate, and the ultimate test is whether they can successfully help to raise a chick.  I never see a missing nester again, and never hear that they have moved to another nesting area.  Gator has spent many days here, always in his favorite yard.  Recently he started working at building a kind of nest around himself.  He has not met another mate, he does not need another bird for the kind of egg he found to incubate.

Gator and his egg

The “egg” is a tennis ball that belongs to Heather and Steve’s dog, who had not willingly given it to one of those big, dorky birds who hang out on her lawn.  Gator clearly wanted to raise a chick, despite all those months of care required.  He is not the first albatross to attempt to incubate an inanimate object.  We had a couple who sat on a cap from the end of a PVC pipe, even exchanging incubation duties.

Incubating a PVC pipe cap

In the afternoon I noticed that Gator had left his nest.  He was displaying with two other albatrosses, a good first step in meeting a new mate.  With any luck, he may find that perfect someone to share his favorite nesting grounds with.

And the dog gets to keep her tennis ball, too.

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One of my favorite albatrosses

One of the rewards of visiting the albatrosses every day is that I have occasionally had the privilege of seeing one return for the first time since fledging.  When they first fledge, the do not come back to land until they return to the area they fledged from, or occasionally to some other place that is colonized by Laysan albatrosses.  At least two Princeville birds are on Midway.  Occasionally I receive a call from a concerned observer telling me that they have spotted a limping albatross on the golf course.  When an albatross returns to Princeville for the first time, he almost always lands on the golf course, which has large, obstacle free  expanses of soft grassy fields for a bird to stumble around in while he gets his land legs.

And stumble they do!

One day when I was feeling sorry for myself because it was a long day and I really wanted to go home and relax, I saw a bird in the distance on the golf course who seemed to be having difficulty standing up.  He was not favoring either leg, he just seemed to be having problems navigating the beautifully shorn grass on fairway 14.  I checked out the auxiliary band number, and it was one of the chick band numbers I had memorized.  It was Tater, who had hatched and grown up outside my mother’s bedroom window, much to her delight.  With just about any other chick, I would have checked my lists of chick numbers and years sighted to make sure this was his first time back, but I did not have to.

Tater is a PMRF chick.  He was raised by two females who have never had a chick that was not delivered as an embryo inside an egg picked up at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  My sister named him.  His older brother is named Spud.  Tater and Spud hatched in years when DNA tests were performed to determine the sex of each chick, and as many adults as could be captured.

I sat on the grass and watched Tater as he tried to cope with his wobbly legs and the uneven walking surface.  In fact, I filmed him.  I posted the film on YouTube, if you do a search on Cathy Granholm you can find that one and a couple of others.  So far, Tater’s first day back on land has had over 26,000 viewings.  My favorite part is when he attempts to display with another albatross and ends up falling against her.  She tolerated that, but was turned off by his weird gestures, and finally moved away from him and took off.

By the next day, Tater was walking fine.  He learned proper displaying techniques and found a possible mate.  He and an unbanded bird hung out together within 20 feet of the spot where the nest he grew up in was located, on my lawn.

I saw him for the first time this season on the golf course, near the Westin Hotel.  I had never seen him there before.

Tater returns

 

The next day he was sitting on the corner where my house is located.  Unfortunately for him, Hanai, the father of Kirwan, the chick who grew up in my yard 2 years ago, did not want him hanging out too close to the area next to my house where he was waiting for his mate to return, so he chased him around the corner.

Hanai

Unfortunately, Tater keeps missing the unbanded bird that I suspect may be the female he was meeting near my house last season.  One arrives here right after the other one has left.  Right now Tater is here.

I would love to have two nests in my yard, one on one side, one on the other.

Am I being greedy?

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